By Subhajit Sengupta
It was one July evening last year, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had summoned the Commissioner of Police BS Bassi after a teenaged girl was brutally stabbed by two men in the city's Anand Parvat area. The crime beat reporters were waiting at the police headquarters for him to come back.
Soon, we were told to assemble in the conference room. It was a surprise, because we were not exactly expecting a full-fledged press briefing. What followed was one of the most explosive press conferences conducted by Bassi so far. From the days where his every answer would be “law will take its own course” to “I report to Central government and do not need to share matters of transfer postings with the Delhi government”, he had come a long way. This was a new BS Bassi.
The evening made one thing very clear, Delhi is governed by two poles, on one side, Aam Admi Party goverment led by Kejriwal and on the other side, the team of Lt Governor Najeeb Jung and Police Commissioner BS Bassi. Bassi and Jung had the full backing of the Home ministry. It was very clear from now on that there would be no reconciliation or middle path. Delhi's development will have to be in spite of the two conflicting power structures and not because of.
For a commisoner appointed by UPA government, who was initially known for taking everybody along, Bassi now retires perceived as the BJP government's trusted warrior, a general who would not mind going well beyond his brief to please the political masters. In a divided political system of Delhi where police reports to centre, a commissioner like him worked well for Modi government.
He was one of those rare UPA government appointees who not only survived but flourished under Modi rule. He was almost rewarded for his loyalty, before he overdid himself. The ministry was abuzz with something had to be done with those mouthed alleged 'anti-national' slogans. Realising it as a great chance to score brownie points, Bassi not only got into the act but also exceeded his brief by arresting a student leader of the country's premier university under sedition charges. Bassi followed it up by allowing Kanhaiya, other students, professors and journalists being beaten up by lumpen lawyers, his men turned mute spectators while some of the senior journalists were kicked and thrashed. When he was later asked to explain the inaction, Bassi called it a 'minor incident'.
But in a public discourse which was becoming increasingly volatile, this was when he went too far, even for his political masters. With Supreme Court stepping in, government had to save its face. This time 'scapegoat' Bassi's candidature for the post of Information Commissioner was rejected, cutting a sorry figure of him. Ostensibly because opposition leader Kharge put his foot down but the real story is that the government feared severe backlash if they appointed BS Bassi at the peak of this fiasco.
In Shakespearian tragedies, the lead characters were a complex lot. Most of the tragic heroes were over-reachers, one character flaw which brought them down. If Macbeth didn't want to become the king then and there, he would have probably had a better reign.
This was also true of the country's most visible IPS officer. Towards the end of his career, he became almost obsessed with the post-retirement position. This affected his policing and in a way the entire force became a tool for Bassi to achieve his personal goal. And hence probably he is retiring at one of his lowest professional moment - discredited by his action in the JNU case and missing out the Information Commissioner's job.
He realised by taking on the AAP government, discrediting its ministers, leaders and MLAs, he would become the trusted man of the central administration. This was a far cry from when he had started out, while taking over the mantle after the tumultuous tenure of Neeraj Kumar.
When Bassi assumed office around mid 2013, he was seen as a perfect antithesis to his predecessor. Neeraj Kumar was as flamboyant, as he was controversial. Throughout his tenure as commisioner there were so many calls for his resignation, that he began his farewell speech by asking reporters “Hope you will not ask for my resignation today”.
Neeraj Kumar's focus was on the special crimes division, the premier anti-terror unit Special Cell and Crime Branch. It was during Kumar's reign that the famous IPL spot fixing case was cracked .When Bassi took over, he shifted the focus back to the police station. District policing was brought back in focus. From day one he made it clear that his focus was to provide last mile policing, making police accessible to Delhi's citizens, especially women. Safety apps, self-defence courses and beat policing was promoted. He maintained a visible distance from the anti-terror unit. Even while he would brief about all other cases, special cell briefings would only be by the concerned special commissioner and Bassi would not give quotes.
He was seen as an accessible commissioner who would speak to media frequently. He would remain non-controversial and status quoist. The joke among the reporters was that he is so non-controversial that if a story is a top headline, it would become the fourth whenever he would speak on it. But that was to change.
After 2015 Delhi elections, where AAP trounced BJP and won 67 of the 70 seats, his role was to be redefined. Kejriwal government had no control over police and hence every time there was a major crime in the city, Delhi CM would target the commissioner of police. Bassi returned the favour by fast-tracking the investigation of all cases against AAP MLAs, Kejriwal's law minister was arrested for fake law degree, an MLA was picked up for cheating, controversial Somnath Bharti was arrested for alleged wife-beating and many others were picked up or probed for various alleged crimes under the IPC.
Media was used effectively by both sides in this battle of perception. AAP is known for its media management. Bassi too would make strong statements and leak crucial documents at the right time to remain in the game. His appointment of Joint CP Mukesh Meena as the ACB chief was seen as another master move in outwitting the AAP government. Meena was given the additional charge of Anti-Corruption Bureau while he was heading the investigation of the alleged suicide of the farmer, who hanged himself in Jantar Mantar. Delhi government went to court against this order and relationship dipped further. The absence of Arvind Kejriwal at his 'At Home' probably reflected how deep is the mistrust.
Along the way he discovered Twitter. This is when he realised the importance of this tool. It helped him reach directly to the people without going through the media persons. But in hindsight it would have been best if he probably refrained from it. Couple of major faux pas where he quote tweeted Hafeez Sayeed's parody account and journalist Ravish Kumar's parody account, brought him nothing but abject ridicule.
But what happened to this non-controversial officer whose focus generally has been in administration? Was it his ambition? A riddle was best answered by a junior officer of the police force he commanded: “He tried to fly high to greener pastures , but for now seems to have crash landed”.
PS: All is not over, not before long the JNU controversy will fade from public memory, BS Bassi might just find his way to a Raj Bhawan as a gift for the troubles.